Stay-green (sometimes staygreen) refers to the heritable delayed foliar senescence character in model and crop plant species. In a cosmetic stay-green, a lesion interferes with an early step in chlorophyll catabolism. The possible contribution of synthesis to chlorophyll turnover in cosmetic stay-greens is considered. In functional stay-greens, the transition from the carbon capture period to the nitrogen mobilization (senescence) phase of canopy development is delayed, and/or the senescence syndrome proceeds slowly. Yield and composition in high-carbon (C) crops such as cereals, and in high-nitrogen (N) species such as legumes, reflect the source–sink relationship with canopy C capture and N remobilization. Quantitative trait loci studies show that functional stay-green is a valuable trait for improving crop stress tolerance, and is associated with the domestication syndrome in cereals. Stay-green variants reveal how autumnal senescence and dormancy are coordinated in trees. The stay-green phenotype can be the result of alterations in hormone metabolism and signalling, particularly affecting networks involving cytokinins and ethylene. Members of the WRKY and NAC families, and an ever-expanding cast of additional senescence-associated transcription factors, are identifiable by mutations that result in stay-green. Empirical selection for functional stay-green has contributed to increasing crop yields, particularly where it is part of a strategy that also targets other traits such as sink capacity and environmental sensitivity and is associated with appropriate crop management methodology. The onset and progress of senescence are phenological metrics that show climate change sensitivity, indicating that understanding stay-green can contribute to the design of appropriate crop types for future environments.